I wondered about the mood of my community as I headed out of my front door. Ever since the presidential election, things haven’t felt the same. I’ve been uneasy having my daughters in public. I can handle what I’m dealt, but there’s only so much I want my kids susceptible to.
It was cold, windy, overcast, and a rust color filled the surroundings. There was no mistaking the presence of fall. I didn’t really want to be at the park but a new soccer season has started for my oldest and practice is inevitable. Besides that, no way is my three year old going to have a playground in view and not partake in the fun it brings!
The swings usually catch our attention first. We made it just as one family was leaving. Score!
A few moments later, a black man and his son came over. They exchanged words as the man pushed him. The dad began to talk excessively to his son as some parents do when uncertain about conversing with other parents.
The atmosphere seems loaded with uncertainty these days and the moment caused me to think of my mom. I thought about her openness, her friendliness, and how she'd handle the situation. I’m friendly, too, but not like her. Countless times I’ve watched her break the ice with strangers and familiars. She knows how to make you feel included and welcomed.
In that moment, I really wanted to be like her.
“Hi. I apologize for standing beside you all of this time without speaking. It’s a bad habit that I’m trying to break. How are you?”
I did it. I broke the ice and was delighted to find him kind, funny, and understanding. His fear of his son breaking bones at every turn was entertaining and took me back to my early parenting days. Within the next 20 minutes, I knew where he grew up, where he’d thought of moving, his disdain for cold weather, and his desire to not be such a fearful parent. Then it happened…
He asked about my feelings concerning the presidential election.
Heaviness filled my body as the swings went forwards, backwards (repeat), and as each word formed his question. It had been my hope to not hear about nor discuss politics with anyone. I breathed deeply as those few seconds passed like an eternity. In that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to discuss politics nor would I avoid his question. Instead, I gave him a look. Apparently, that was enough because he laughed hysterically and said he “could see we were on the same page.”
That was the best laugh I’d had all day.
A white woman and her baby made their way to the swings as well. I could sense awkwardness wanting to take over but even more powerful was the smell of her perfume. It was wonderful and you know what? I told her that. Her eyes lit up, her smile was beautiful, and gratitude filled her aura.
I wish you could have seen it.
Within ten minutes, I’d learned that she didn’t want to be there either (it was all for the kids!) and that she had a great sense of humor. While listening and laughing at my attempts to con my daughters into leaving, she adopted my plan of going home to enjoy hot chocolate. I wished her luck.
The three of us stood there being adults, being parents, being human. We pushed as the swings went higher and higher. Children’s screams and laughter filled the air as it grew colder and the feel of snow taunted us.
It was perfection.
Politics never came up again and for the first time in days, it didn’t matter. The only divisive parties were parents and children; parents who were ready to go and children who wanted to stay. The remainder of our time was spent sharing parenting stories and yelling at kids to prevent loss of limbs while doing all the things we told them not to.
I needed that, all of it!
I needed to be around humans again. I needed to see exasperated parents loving their kids. I needed to make eye contact with strangers who “got me” without having to exchange words. I needed to acknowledge, compliment, and share space with others without the security of a safety pin.
Although my brief perfection doesn't lessen the severity of what's happening around the country nor the special message a thoughtfully placed safety pin brings, I needed to believe in America again. I've had many enjoyable park experiences but this one was the most impactful. It revived a hope I thought was disappearing. I have a renewed energy to fight for the things I value. I will do that for my family and the families of the wonderful people I met.
We don't all see, want, experience, or value things in the same way. Our country and our world have a long road to progress but maybe, just maybe, we should start on the playground, in a childlike environment, where joy and acceptance often abound. If you're up for it, I'll meet you at the swings and I'll be waiting with a smile.